Digital memory, circa 1960s NASA, would be unrecognizable to us today. But it is digital. Photo contrasts an Apollo memory core (back) with modern avionics circuitry. Photo (CC-BY) Steve Jurvetson.

The always-thoughtful Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet picks up on my tongue-in-cheek comment, in which I question my own wisdom in dubbing this site “Create Digital Music.” It’s worth reading the whole piece, as he reflects on what’s in a name, the name of this site, the name of media outlets and blogs in general, and how we label music. This line I think sums it up:

Technology and aesthetics each engender various types of practice, but they are not inherently mappable to each other in any specific one-to-one manner.

As it happens, the name “Create Digital Music” was the one I had assigned to the book project that Peachpit Press renamed Real World Digital Audio. When I started CDM, I never intended to make it an ongoing project, only a companion for the book. I hated Peachpit’s book title, in fact.

I’ll defend the title of the site. I actually take the constant references to it in comments and complaints as a sort of confirmation that it was a good choice. I like that it’s a call to action. Anyway, I’m long past the point of thinking about it. But I think it is relevant to appreciate the notion of “digital,” partly because of its broad meaning. Aside from literally deriving from the Latin for fingers – a reference to counting on your fingers – “digital” simply means something with discrete values. Over the weekend, I was watching a documentary on my DVR on the Moon missions. When the tape storage memory of the time proved too unreliable, the MIT team building Apollo’s guidance systems turned to something called core rope memory. Leagues of women literally wove values into arrays of memory, each zero or one, one at a time. You can see the pictures from the Raytheon archives. It’s a reminder that “digital” is in no way “virtual”: all of our machines are, despite outward appearances, still assemblages of matter and electricity, subject to laws of physics, and at some point the work of human minds, hands, and digits.

I also agree with what Marc says about electronica; I’d like to revive the term.

The word “electronica” in particular seems to have long since fallen from any particular favor, but to my mind, that allows for it to take on new meaning; I like to think of it as being like “Americana,” the varied ephemera of a particular territory.


Tangential to that discussion, I want to share this morning’s listening. ISO50, aka Scott Hansen, aka Tycho, has a new free mix up for streaming.

ISO50 Playlist 9

What I love about Scott is his pitch-perfect sense of taste and aesthetic. The music here, like his photos, crosses genres but seems sonically to have the kind of warm, saturated color and vingetted edges that mark his design. Tycho’s own music, of course, tends to crackling, wonderful ambiences, whereas here we’re treated to some dreamy rock. The collage, just as his digital designs, all works for me. Perhaps it’s not entirely unrelated to the topic above. Enjoy listening.

  • dan

    For those of us who were around in electronic music in the mid-1990's, the word "electronica" will always be a dirty, stained word, a byproduct of the major record labels' efforts to pop-ify and cash in on a new genre. I still bristle when I hear the word.

  • @dan: Really?

    I've mostly gotten over *all* of the traumas of the 1990s. 😉

  • Thanks for continuing the discussion, Peter. When I look at ebooks from companies with the word "print" in their name, it's easy to see that how no matter what words we select, they will potentially mean something different down the road we can't fully prepare for.

    One of the great foreseers of such inevitability may be Kronos Quartet, who actively decided to not use the word "String," looking ahead to what did turn out to be decades of ongoing multi-instrumental exploration, even if the string quartet remains, of course, their bedrock.

  • J. Phoenix

    I like the name because it is an active verb, applied to a broad category, personally speaking.

    Seeing what other people are working on, creating inspires me with the active verb.

    Whenever I see it, I'm urged to Create, and as a artist who uses samplers, it dovetails nicely. Samplers are inseparable from digital technology, so I am a digital musician.

    But I have to confess I'd probably read Create Analog Music or Create Acoustic Music as well, I'd just recognize the focus would suddenly get narrower.

    Almost every form of music is digitized these days, n'est-ce pas?

  • Vors

    Electronica? An umbrella term for IDM, glitch, aphex, boards of canada, etc…

    Was I supposed to stop using that?

  • Yes. It was a marketing term which at the time was specifically wrapped around certain artists like the Prodigy, Underworld, Chemical Brothers, FSOL, Fluke, Sneaker Pimps, Arkana, Fat Boy Slim, etc. at an attempt to cash in on a catchphrase-scene after Grunge died. It mostly resulted in 90000000 worthless compilation CDs that just spammed the store shelves and made the 'electronic' sections worthless (which you can still see rotting away @ major retailers like Best Buy, etc).

    I worked at a record store during those years and it was absolutely disgusting, still is. Although the festivals surrounding that promotion were pretty fun… and as a stock rep I got alot of free tickets ;]

    The reaction I have to the word is the same reaction I get when people are discussing electronic music and some unfamiliar person does the "unst unst unst usnt" mockery.

  • oh.. however.. I can ignore the word b/c im aware some ppl don't care. that and i've read disquiet for several years, he has great topics from time to time. i do recommend his site in return!

  • I hear you. But this is just making me even more eager to somehow reclaim this derogatory, meaningless word as our own.

    "unst unst unst unst" I think we need on a t-shirt.

  • Any alternatives? "Electrical"?

  • hshs

    Tycho.. the best Boards of Canada rip off that ever existed..
    Why not promote an original artist, instead of promoting someone who's made a 'career' out of ripping off another artist's sounds and style?

  • Polite

    Electronical 😛

  • greg

    I try not to use the expression 'electronic music'. Over the years it became so broad that it's too vague to describe one's musical taste. When someone says 'I like electronic music' it sounds like saying 'My friends are people'. Interestingly, those I met from Southern Europe and South America tend to use to word 'electro' for electronic music.